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The 5 Dimensions of Recovery

The five recovery dimensions published by Whitley and Drake include clinical, existential, functional, physical and social recovery:

1. Clinical recovery refers to the reduction of symptoms often using medications in conjunction with behavioral and talk therapies to reduce symptom severity. Whitley and Drake explain: “This form of recovery may best be managed by psychiatrists, who can delegate appropriate responsibilities to case managers, social workers, or clinical psychologists.”[1]

2. Existential recovery includes hope, responsibility, self-direction, and empowerment. “These secular psychosocial factors may allow individuals to feel more in control of their lives and less subject to the whim of an uncontrollable illness or a capricious mental health service system.”[1] Clinicians that can assist with this dimension include case managers and peer support specialists. This key component may also include religious and spiritual engagement.

3. Functional recovery includes everyday life components and includes employment, housing, and education.

4. Physical recovery encompasses improvements to physical health and well-being, from physical fitness, mindfulness training and improvements to diet and sleep. Professionals to help with physical recovery can be facilitated through an integrated team approach; psychiatrists, physical trainers, nutritionists, addictions counselors.

5. Social recovery refers to personal connections. Many people with a SUD experience social isolation and difficult relationships with family, friends, and significant others.

An excerpt from Navigating Addiction and Treatment: A Guide for Families, Addiction Policy Forum, 2020.


A Note From Addiction Policy Forum

Substance use disorders get worse over time. The earlier treatment starts the better the chances for long-term recovery. Many families are wrongly told to “wait for rock bottom” and that their loved one needs to feel ready to seek treatment in order for it to work. The idea that we should wait for the disease to get worse before seeking treatment is dangerous. Imagine if we waited until stage 4 to treat cancer. Decades of research has proven that the earlier someone is treated, the better their outcomes—and that treatment works just as well for patients who are compelled to start treatment by outside forces as it does for those who are self-motivated to enter treatment.

Help is Here

If you have questions or need to speak with someone for support, call or text (833) 301-4357 today. Our staff of trained counselors at Addiction Policy Forum provides free, confidential support to anyone in need of help with a Substance Use Disorder issue, including patients, families and healthcare providers.

Addiction A - Z Topics


  1. Whitley, R. & Drake, R. E. (2010). Recovery: A Dimensional Approach. Journal of Psychiatric Services. Retrieved from 6/ps.2010.61.12.1248


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